Scenes from Whitehorse

There’s no place I’ve visited that’s as uncompromisingly beautiful as the Yukon. You won’t find the lush denseness of temperate coastal rainforest, or landscape colours that subtly blend into a gradient here. Everywhere you look, the scenery is impossibly clear, and seemingly energized by contrast.

A lot of people who visit Whitehorse describe the vast stretches of snow, the mountains skirting the horizon, or the mysterious dance of the Aurora Borealis. But few ever talk about the light. By mid-April, the sun breathes a golden essence into the forests and across the hills, which belies the chill that still nips the air. This light spills across the crackling ice of the river, and warms that restful space behind closed eyelids. Gaunt trees, recently liberated from their freezing shrouds, all stretch towards this glow, peacefully rocking in the freshening breeze.

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On the second day, I awoke to a fresh fall of snow. To my Vancouverite eyes, it seemed as if a thick down comforter had been thrown over the landscape. I will admit, as well, a slight surge of claustrophobia, since snow like that has the power to shut a city down where I’m from. But up there, snow is simply a fact of life. It was decided that the best vantage point for contemplating the unexpected blast of winter was the Takhini Hot Springs, a serene outdoor pool surrounded by kilometres of gently rolling, breathtaking wilderness. As the steaming water enveloped and smoothed out the knotted tensions I’d come to regard as usual, feathery flakes still fell at intervals from the velvety underside of clouds. I found myself at the confluence of competing forces of nature. Unfathomable heat, inhospitable cold, and in between, the fragile dimension that supports the life we know.

 

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In the Yukon, it’s easy to be imbued with the sensation of being close to things, distances notwithstanding. Whitehorse is a relatively young city, which puts its history within easy reach. It’s a city that hasn’t forgotten its past, and where fragments of antiquity blend with a growing modern world.

Whitehorse is also close to nature. Simply venture slightly beyond Whitehorse city limits, and the regularity of buildings dissolves into a breathtaking view of mountains that seem to sweep up towards the sky, discarding trees at the peak in favour of a bolder display of rock, ice, and snow. Animal tracks meander through the quiet forest floor, blue indentations that serve to remind you that you’re never really alone. Even wandering along the river that winds through the heart of the city results in that peaceful, sun-baked feeling of having spent time outdoors.

 

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You may notice that I’ve spent quite a lot of time in a narrative zigzag about intangibles and experiences. Sure, I could talk about the amenities, the incredible airline, the wonderful restaurants I visited (and revisited), the friendly people, the funky shops that make it easy to while away an afternoon downtown, but that would be like reducing a profound piece of music to its component notes. The truth is, the Yukon is one of those increasingly rare places that makes you feel as if you’ve actually been somewhere. And it’s more than the lungfuls of pure air, the golden light, or even the breathtaking landscape. If you’re looking for something larger, something more whole, a place that resonates with the adventurous spirit while also helping you discover the tranquil places within, make the Yukon your next destination.

While on the plane back to Vancouver from my first trip to Whitehorse back in 2014, a good-natured lady just past retirement questioned me about my experiences. At the end of the conversation, she folded her hands contentedly, flashed a knowing grin, and simply stated “You’ll be back.”

She was, and will likely continue to be, quite right.

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